To say that Richard Strand didn’t want to be here would be an understatement. The room was full of drunk, overly excited interns shouting Christmas songs and throwing sprigs of mistletoe over every pair of people near each other, regardless of sexuality or availability. Their presence alone would be enough to make this party nearly unbearable, but everyone's cheery attitude and Christmas spirit drove it home. He hadn’t celebrated Christmas in years, unless you counted whiskey and an essay on the scientific impossibilities in the bible. The decorations served to drove home the memory a bright-eyed woman who he held close and the laugh of a small child excitedly jumping on him in the morning. Celebrating Christmas is empty and painful when you're alone.
The only reason he agreed to attend the party was his inability to turn down Alex Regan. When she looked up him, doe eyed with hope and excitement, he knew he would give in. By the time she promised it would be fun, he almost believed that by her side he could enjoy the holiday. He held out as long as he could before giving in and agreeing to accompany her to the PNWS Christmas Party. She swore that if he didn’t enjoy herself she’d make it up to him. (“I’ll read you a book about greek mythology so you can discredit it all, or something.”)(He knew that he would enjoy himself with her anyway. He also knew that he’d never admit it to her. Not when he could get more time.)
What he hadn’t considered was that he wouldn’t be the only person that wanted to talk to her at this party.
Turns out, he wasn’t the only ‘esteemed guest’ at this drunken fest. There was also a few other consultants and important friends. Many of whom wanted to talk to the shining star of Pacific North West Stories, the vibrant Alex Regan, host of The Black Tapes and kind, sweet, host of the party.
So while she was off and about dazzling every unworthy fool who approached her with alcohol laden breath and smiles too wide to be anything near charming, Strand hung back against a wall in the main room with a glass of whiskey and waited.
Not thinking about the last woman he’d known who could so effectively win over anyone she met.
Not thinking about how Alex and Coralee, while nothing alike, seemed to have placed him under the same dazey thoughts whenever he saw them. When he made dinner and thought about sharing it with her. When he dressed and imagined her eyes on him. When he went to bed and imagined pulling her against him and drifting away with the scent of her shampoo in his nostrils.
No. Strand was a grown man now, not a lovesick boy. He’d seen how love turned in time. Coralee, Charlie, his father, he’d seen it all.
But when Alex looked over her shoulder at him from halfway across the room, lightning up at seeing him right where she left him, he felt his chest constrict with the need to walk toward her and paint his lips with hers.
She nodded towards another wall, a bit more secluded area, and he was glad that he didn’t have to talk with the way his throat closed. With a nod he moved toward the wall, gripping his glass tighter to calm down.
Alex saw Strand moving across the room and breathed out her relief. She had known that she would likely be drawn around by other attendees a bit, but had no idea that it would be to this extent. After all, the only reason she had dragged him along to this part was because, from the second Nic had mentioned a plus one, Alex couldn't get the idea out of her mind; Strand and her in a more casual setting. He was always so professional and strung up with her while they were working, but maybe at a party he would relax. Maybe they could talk and joke freely without demons or his wife or-
(Maybe he would laugh at something he said and she would smile and his eyes would catch on her mouth and-)
Alex took a deep breath and turned back to the guest speaking to her. He was the brother of one of the newer interns, a construction worker who seemed to have had a lot of the mostly vodka, partially punch provided by the interns. He seemed nice enough, definitely interested in his own job and how similar the two of them were (she didn’t see it but he was insisting). He hadn’t even noticed her looking away, too engrossed in his cup, so Alex knew it wouldn’t be too hard to slip away. Sure enough, it only took a second for a passing woman in a short skirt to completely draw his attention away from her for the second needed to slip away.
As she walked back toward Strand, she realized she had no idea what she was going to say to him. Her tongue felt heavy in her mouth and she took a quick sip of her punch as she neared him to loosen it up. Then she regretted it when she thought about how attractive his stubble was, and how nice it would feel on her hands, or her mouth, or-
(Nope. Professionals. Work partners.)
“What, no ugly sweater or santa hat?”
He cracked a wry smile (of course he did), “Well I do have an image to keep up. What would the people think if they saw me in festive clothing? I imagine the young interns would lose all that fear in me.”
Alex laughed, picturing Strand in a giant red sweater with green christmas patches on it. She saw his mouth start to pull up at the corners, and the prospect of a rare full smile forced her to push forward.
“I don’t know, maybe they stop thinking you were actually an ancient demon, here only to misdirect the innocent populace into thinking that they’re hauntings are fake.”
“Do they really think that?”
“Is it true?”
She saw a brief glimpse of a real smile from him before he tapered it down to smirk. Then he took a sip of his glass, and she of hers, both of them just staring at each other with small smiles.
(This is it he’ll lean in and-)
Strand looked away and cleared his throat, nodding his head at Nic, Geoff, and MK, who were all three in deep conversation.
“What's going on there?”
Alex bit her lip and tried to push down her blush.
“No idea. I’m still trying to figure out how he managed to convince MK to come. Geoff is definitely interested in Nic but other then that? No idea. He’s unusually close lipped about it, and I haven't really had the time to discuss it with him.”
Strand’s only response was to press his lips together in a thoughtful hum.
(What else could he do with those-)
Alex quickly took a swig of her punch, only to realize that her glass was empty. Shit.
Strand seemed to notice and inclined his head towards the punch table, a clear invitation to walk there with her.
Alex nodded with a small smile, unable to contain her giggle when he held out his arm towards her, unable to stop her heart from pounding when she accepted it with her own.
His arm felt alive where she touched it. Everything about him seemed to breathe when she touched him. She just made him breathe easier.
Strand needed more to drink too.
Some random man, intern or guest or who cares, approached them, but Strand sent a glare over Alex’s head, without her noticing, and it seemed to deter him. Strand didn’t know why he had ventured from his safe space against the wall, but he was determined that no one would interrupt their casual conversation. As long as he was accompanying her, he would do what he could to make sure that she was undisturbed. (Or maybe he just wanted all her attention on him. Maybe he wanted to spend the rest of this night, of his life, talking with her.)
At the table, after they both took the opportunity to swig out of their glasses, Alex turned to Strand with determination set in her shoulders.
“You are enjoying yourself right? Because if you're not I can-”
“I’m fine.” He assured her, before continuing at her dubious look. “I swear. It’s… more enjoyable than my usual Christmas festivities at least.” (Everything would be with her.)
“Oh? What are you normally doing to celebrate, giving seminars on the physical impossibilities of the existence of Santa?” She teased, bumping his shoulder with hers.
Strand chuckled. “Not exactly. I’m afraid i’m even less festive than that normally.” Alex raised her eyebrows at him, a gentle invitation. “I haven’t actually celebrated since Charlie and Coralee left. The holiday just seemed… pointless without someone to celebrate it with.”
“Oh,” Alex paused, worrying her lip between her teeth. (He shouldn’t have said that. Shouldn’t have brought down the mood. He should have made a wry remark or-) “Well… I guess it’s a good thing I invited you to celebrate with me - I mean us - then, huh?”
Strand’s breathe caught in his throat for a second. “Yeah. I guess so. Thank you Ms. Regan,” It came out huskier than he would have prefered.
She was caught off by the sudden silence of many of the surrounding party guests, and the loud giggles of a group of people over their shoulders. A glance around showed everyone looking at them, some laughing, some scared, some just shocked. When Strand turned around, he saw why.
A small group of people (interns?) stood a little ways away, holding what looked like a limbo pole out towards them. When he followed the pole up, he saw it. Hanging from it’s tip, hanging right above and between them, was a piece of mistletoe. Strand felt the room around him get hotter, and knew that he must have a blush spreading across his cheeks now.
Alex’s eyes were locked on it, a fierce blush blooming across her cheeks and nose. (That should not be as cute as is.) Her lips parted in shock and he saw her tongue shoot out to wet them. She slowly turned to stare at the interns, and then back up to the mistletoe, and finally her eyes snapped to him.
(No, she didn’t glance at his lips. He only imagined that. He had to have.)
“I-I-I’m so sorry. I swear I didn’t know-” (She looked was flustered and he really wanted-) “I’ll them not to-to- That this is too far I mean-” She looked back at the offending plant above them.
“I-it’s just a stupid tradition I-”
Her eyes snapped back to his at the use of her first name. (She couldn’t have just looked at his lips that was just him projecting. It had to be.)
“Y-you don’t have to- I mean I-”
When he kissed her, he immediately forgot that they were being watched. He forgot that they worked together. He forgot about his ghosts, metaphorical, and his demons, probably not literal, and how he just didn’t deserve her. All he knew was the two of them in that physical moment, how they breathed together when it was done, how they moved back together afterword, how her hand pulled his shoulder, how her hair felt between his fingers. (He should really stop, really pull away.)(He could never.)
When she pulled away (was it an hour later? A moment? It wasn’t long enough) he felt like she took a part of him with her.
“Alex…” He breathed out, opening hiss eyes to see her blinking hers open as well.
She took a deep breath and laid her forehead against his. She gasped out, with a small grin. “Merry Christmas Richard.”
Strand just stared for a second before grinning, a full one, without bothering to tamper it down. He leaned forward chuckling into another kiss, although they had to stop after a second, finding kissing difficult around their grins.
“Merry Christmas Alex. I can say without a doubt this is one of the best I’ve had."